Italy begin Euro 2020 qualifying with victory against Finland
Nicolo Barella and Moise Kean scored in either half as Italy launched their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win against Finland in Udine.
Barella gave Italy a flying start at the Friuli Stadium by opening the scoring in the seventh minute and Juventus winger Kean’s effort in the second period sealed the victory.
Barella struck with a deflected shot from outside the penalty area following a half-cleared free-kick. It was the Cagliari midfielder’s first goal for his country.
Italy’s Group J opponents Finland, promoted from the third tier of the UEFA Nations League last year, were not short of confidence.
The Scandinavians rode the early storm and grew into the game, looking every bit as comfortable on the ball as their hosts.
Italy were content to stretch their opponents on the break and in teenager Kean they had the first half’s most dangerous player.
Kean set up Cristiano Piccini, who fired wide, while Federico Bernardeschi’s effort from outside the area was off target.
But Italy were also found wanting with their final ball on the edge of the penalty area, with clear-cut chances at a premium.
Finland mustered the first effort on goal in the second period when Norwich striker Teemu Pukki’s shot was blocked.
Pukki, leading goalscorer in the Sky Bet Championship this season, spurned Finland’s best chance in the 65th minute when he misdirected Robin Lod’s cross.
Finland continued to press for an equaliser with 20 minutes left, but Kean struck a second, decisive goal for Italy in the 74th minute.
Ciro Immobile provided a fine through ball and Keane ran on before firing home, left-footed, into the bottom corner.
Italy had a strong penalty appeal waved away soon after when Kean appeared to be fouled by Sauli Vaisanen and substitute Fabio Quagliarella’s header was brilliantly saved by Lukas Hradecky.
Quagliarella clipped the crossbar with a rising drive in the closing stages as Italy settled for a deserved 2-0 success.
Italy will aim for back-to-back wins when they play Liechtenstein in Parma on Tuesday, while Finland play in Armenia on the same day.